The chief reason that CEOs fail to achieve their aims is not lack of vision, lack of ambition, or even lack of desire. No, according to a Fortune magazine article, the chief reason leaders fail is lack of execution. Three years later, Fortune explored why corporations fail. Of the ten reasons cited, four ("see no evil, dysfunctional board, fearing the boss, [and] dangerous culture") can be attributed to a failure of another sort - a failure of communications.
Further affirmation of communications as a leadership attribute comes from presidential historian Robert Dallek. He describes five key factors of a successful presidency: "vision, pragmatism, consensus-building, charisma, and trustworthiness."[3 ] Four of these factors depend heavily upon an ability to communicate on multiple levels. Presidents, like all leaders, need to be able to describe where they are going (vision), persuade people to come along with them (consensus), connect on a personal level (charisma), and demonstrate credibility, i.e., do what they say they will do (trust). Even pragmatism depends on communications. Leaders need to describe the options facing an organization and make tough decisions about those options. It is then their responsibility to communicate the reasoning behind their decisions and the results of those decisions. So in a very real sense, leadership effectiveness, both for presidents and for anyone else in a position of authority, depends to a high degree upon good communication skills.
It is easy to take communications for granted. After all, anyone who has the ability to climb into a position of authority over others can communicate, right? Wrong. Communications is seemingly the easiest of leadership behaviors, but experience tells us that it is often the hardest to carry out consistently. How often do we hear about bosses who fail to set expectations, fail to listen to what people tell them, and in the end fail to achieve the results they were hired to achieve? Communications itself is not difficult. Verbal expression and listening to others are common human behaviors. The reason people find communications difficult is that it takes so much commitment. Often leaders are so busy doing all the other important things related to managing systems and people that they simply run out of time and thus do not communicate effectively. And that's the reason so many leaders fail at communications. Communications requires discipline, thought, perseverance, and the willingness to do it again and again every day.
Effective leadership, both personal and corporate, is effective communications. Leaders and employees need to be in synch throughout the decision-making and implementation process. Leaders and employees need to understand one another. Leaders and employees also need to be able to exchange ideas in an open and honest way. These things can occur only when facilitated by communications from leadership.
Just as there is no single way to lead, there is no single way to communicate - in fact, there are countless ways. What matters most is the willingness to do it, with a consistent message, a constancy of purpose, and a frequency of performance. In other words, leaders communicate all the time and do it willingly in order to convey their goals, gain support for those goals, and demonstrate concern for all who follow them.
Examples of leadership communication form the context and heritage of our culture, past and present. These include:
Winston Churchill becoming prime minister of Great Britain in May 1940. Churchill rallied a nation under siege, inspiring hope and the will to persevere until victory over fascism was achieved.
Mother Teresa gaining support for her mission to the "poorest of the poor" through her prayers, writing, and public appearances.
George C. Marshall speaking to Congress on the need for military preparedness. He mobilized our armed forces to defeat fascism and later to rebuild a broken Europe.
Katherine Graham providing leadership at the Washington Post. Graham's steady hand on the helm enabled the paper to face down a president and to weather a crippling strike and become a preeminent publishing power.
Bill Veeck promoting baseball both as a game and as entertainment. Veeck's promotional outlook stemmed from his values of storytelling, listening to his constituents, and giving back to the fans.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter demonstrating the role of effective communications during transformational change. Kanter's writings have provided a roadmap for two generations of managers seeking to cope with and embrace the changes that have swept the management landscape.
Oprah Winfrey using her own personal stories to make connections with others in ways that dispel prejudice and illuminate and celebrate life.
Rudy Giuliani taking command at the site of the World Trade Center collapse. He served as the lighting rod for both the grieving and the rebuilding of New York City in the wake of September 11.
Shelly Lazarus demonstrating a leadership role in advertising management. She exemplifies how women can lead their companies as well as their industries and still lead fulfilled personal lives.
Peter Drucker writing on the role of management. He invigorated the role of management by providing insight and direction.
What all these leaders have in common is a commitment to a cause larger than themselves. Each of them is using communications to further the leadership message through words and deeds. Each understands that leadership communications binds leader to followers in a partnership that is founded in mutual benefit and cemented by trust.
Leaders need to do more than just stand up and speak. They need to integrate communications into everything they do as leaders so that their communications, both oral and written, emerge from who they are as leaders and within the appropriate cultural context. Leaders who fail in communications will fail to achieve their organizational aims.
This guide shows how to develop and deliver the leadership message: how to develop it for organizationwide communications, create strong e-communications, and connect with the winning presentation. It contains three sections:
Part I deals with developing the leadership message, which is defined as a communication from the leader that covers a key organizational or business issue and is rooted in the cultural values of the organization. Examples of leadership messages include vision and mission statements, calls for transformational change, and calls to action. The main purpose of a leadership message is to build trust. The effectiveness of the leadership communication depends upon how it is communicated and in what manner it is disseminated - all-employee meetings, face-to-face, video, or email. Developing the message includes planning and proper selection of communication channels. It also traces the development of the message by tracking the evolution of a topic from its inception through the stages of an outline, draft, revision, and visualization.
Part II covers the delivery of the leadership message. The leader must take what is in the message and proclaim it to the outside world. The leader must know the audience and what it expects to hear. An understanding of audience perception is essential to success at the podium. Connecting to the audience through voice and movement is necessary to underscore intention.
Part III involves sustaining the leadership message. The work is not complete when the presentation is over; communications is an ongoing process. Essential to communications is ensuring continuous feedback. Leaders need to iterate and reiterate their messages in ways that connect beyond words. An element of this connection involves coaching. Coaching is really leadership communication on an individual level. Leaders use their ability to communicate to develop their people to the next level of performance, both for the job they are in now and for the future.
Intercut are real-life examples of how leaders have used communications to amplify their leadership. Written in the style of vignettes, these stories, gleaned from history, business, and sports, illustrate key principles of leadership communication. Each story concludes with a dot-point summary of the leadership message.
Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin, "Why CEOs Fail," Fortune, June 21, 1999.
Ram Charan and Jerry Useem, "Why Companies Fail," Fortune, May 27, 2002.
[3 ]Robert Dallek, Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents